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Tag Archive: Star Wars The Force Awakens


Review by C.J. Bunce

As you will no doubt hear as moviegoers walk out of theaters this holiday season, Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a very “different” Star Wars movie.  That said, despite writer/director Rian Johnson’s assertions to the contrary, it is very much an echo of the second film of the original trilogy, The Empire Strikes Back, with several parallel elements you’ll encounter along the way.  Picking up where director J.J. Abrams left off two years ago in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Johnson seems to take the bits and pieces of questions raised in Abrams’ film, answers a few, dismisses a few, and ignores the rest, perhaps for Abrams to pick them up again as he re-takes the reins in two years for the final film in the Skywalker family saga.  So many questions seem to have been definitively tied up by the end of The Last Jedi, moviegoers are now left to ponder for the next two years, “What could Episode IX possibly be about?”

The Last Jedi is most intriguing when it emulates some of the surprises and emotional impact of last year’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story–a bold, unique film that falls outside the three trilogies of franchise films, but provided a fantastically gritty, nostalgic, and heart-pounding story that put the “war” back in Star Wars.  An opening scene in The Last Jedi featuring the heroic death of a new character made me sit up thinking another gritty war movie was coming (only swap a guerilla land war for World War II-inspired bombing runs).  Heroism is the theme of The Last Jedi, and every character gets a chance to be a hero, but the damage is not as gut-wrenching as Rogue One.  Yet, depending on who your favorite character was in The Force Awakens, every fan should find something in The Last Jedi to be happy about.  Even if it might not offer up the excitement of the original trilogy, the third of the new annual holiday Star Wars adventures will be a great excuse to get together with family and friends for the event itself–annual Star Wars movies are becoming what the annual Christmas Special has become for Doctor Who fans, an event that for many will be bigger than whatever you think of the film.

The actors are top-notch in The Last Jedi, including Carrie Fisher in her final performance as General Leia Organa, although Hamill’s work stands out and could easily merit an Oscar nomination.  Alec Guinness’s genius as the similar Jedi wizard Obi-Wan Kenobi of the original Star Wars was in his reserved performance and iconic utterances of wisdom.  Here Hamill shows that Hollywood has missed the boat for 40 years by not featuring him regularly in mainstream films, bringing a powerful and emotional performance from beginning to end.  And gone are the days of Star Wars’ clunky dialogue–Johnson’s success is pulling out the stilted exchanges Star Wars had began to become known for.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

In her debut in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Captain Phasma was an enigma, the latest of the uniquely costumed bad guys in the Star Wars universe, following in a line that progressed from Darth Maul to General Grievous, Count Dooku, and Darth Vader in the prequels, and later into Director Krennic and Grand Moff Tarkin in Rogue One, and Grand Admiral Thrawn in Star Wars Rebels.  In Delilah S. Dawson’s new novel, Star Wars: Phasma, Phasma finally gets the spotlight.  Readers learn about her backstory through an interrogation of a Resistance spy working for General Leia Organa, by yet another aspiring Imperial/First Order warrior, Captain Cardinal.

The spy, Vi Moradi, is pressed to provide Cardinal with damning information to help him bring down Phasma with the current leader, General Armitage Hux, son of General Brendol Hux, the leader who ushered both Cardinal and Phasma from their primitive worlds to train the future warriors of the First Order.  Dawson tells this story as a play on A Thousand and One Nights, where the reader is compelled to wonder whether the information is true or that the end will be of the Keyser Söze variety.  Moradi reveals a story of Phasma’s rise to power among a tribe on the planet Parnassos, and her discovery by Brendol Hux when his ship crashes on the planet and his emergency escape pod leaves him and his Stormtroopers far from the wreckage and any chance to communicate back to the First Order for assistance.

Phasma’s story will be most familiar to readers of the Star Wars universe novel Thrawn (reviewed here earlier at borg.com).  Both Phasma and Thrawn literally battled their way to the top.  Those familiar with the third trilogy novels will find an interesting parallel in the selection of the stories released leading up to the new canon films, including Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel centered on the feud between Krennic, Tarkin, and Galen Erso, and Tarkin, introducing readers to Tarkin’s confrontations with Darth Vader.  Star Wars: Phasma has much in common with the Star Wars Rebels prequel novel A New Dawn, and indeed Vi Moradi would fit in well with the crew of the Ghost.  Dawson pits Cardinal against Phasma like the Emperor pitted Anakin Skywalker against Grievous and Dooku, continuing some consistency from earlier Star Wars stories.

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Following up on last year’s successful Black Series Imperial Stormtrooper Electronic Voice Changer Helmet from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and the Black Series Kylo Ren Voice Changer Helmet from Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the new September release of the Black Series Poe Dameron Electronic Helmet.  A screen accurate helmet at a price point of about $80?  That’s an amazing find.  Even a dedicated fan with skills could hardly build a replica helmet for so little.  The Black Series Poe Dameron Electronic Helmet hit stores across the country–as well as internationally–Friday as part of Disney’s unprecedented Force Friday II marketing push.  And we thought Disney came up with an enormous volume of tie-ins for the first Force Friday!  This helmet emerges as a leading contender in a field of some impressive action figures, household items, games, and toys.

A replica of Oscar Isaac’s X-Wing pilot helmet from the current trilogy era of the Star Wars universe features a surround sound speaker system that produces for the wearer clear and clean X-Wing and TIE fighter communication sounds, plus familiar beeps from Dameron’s trusty droid sidekick BB-8.  What hasn’t been touted–but should be–is the care given to the interior, which rivals even studio built props in design and comfort, featuring quality-designed ear muffs and soft finished edges.  Ultimately the new helmet may be a strong competitor with Anovos’s high-end $200-$665 range replica helmet series (both series are licensed replicas, with Anovos’s typically cornering the higher end of the market quality and price-wise).  Is it screen-accurate?  It’s close, and those wanting to go further could make upgrades on their own.  Is it collector grade?  Sure, and it displays quite well.

Details include scuff/wear built into its design.  At three pounds it’s built sturdy, but light enough to remain comfortable, making it a good option for cosplayers.  A retractable polarizing visor provides a classic nostalgic feel and the adjustable inner helmet padding further helps the wearer feel right at home.  All you need is a flight suit (and maybe an X-Wing fighter).

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It’s been nearly five years since we first reviewed the award-winning, low-budget sci-fi alien invasion flick Attack the Block.  Now that Jodie Whittaker is in the spotlight for her selection as the next Doctor in the BBC’s Doctor Who, and John Boyega will be returning this December for his second stint as Imperial turned Resistance fighter Finn in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, let’s look back to them working together as co-leads in writer/director Joe Cornish’s modern cult classic.  Attack the Block should be in every sci-fi fan’s arsenal.  When we first reviewed Attack the Block here at borg.com, we compared it to another low-budget British sci-fi/horror mash-up, 1985’s Lifeforce (which co-starred a then less-known Patrick Stewart).  After repeat viewings since then, it’s clear Attack the Block is a much better film, full of action, suspense, humor, and good acting by young actors who all feel very real on-screen.  In 2011 only fans of the actors from the Cornetto films would have noticed it, because of the slightly larger than cameo performance by Nick Frost, one-half of the Simon Pegg/Frost comic duo (Shaun of the Dead, The Fuzz, Spaced, Paul).  Attack the Block was an unknown commodity that didn’t get much reaction at the U.S. box office in 2011 because it was not marketed well and it was not a typical, Hollywood-made sci-fi epic.  It was before its time–it’s Stranger Things, UK style.  It’s Judgment Night and John Carpenter’s original Attack on Precinct 13 meets E.T., if E.T. didn’t have good intentions and Elliot wasn’t a nice little kid.

It takes a bit to warm up to the main cast of Attack the Block.  We follow a teen gang of British kids in masks led by John Boyega’s character Moses as they unabashedly and violently mug a nurse named Sam, played by Jodie Whittaker.  From the beginning Whittaker’s Sam really is the only person in the film we are completely sympathetic toward, despite efforts of the writer to get viewers to understand this gang of kids.  We almost get to the point of sympathy for the others once Sam decides she may very well be killed by aliens if she does not join up with the gang, and this film takes a swing at answering the question: “Under what situation would a victim, however reluctantly, join up with her attacker?”  Violent alien beast invasion, of course!  Despite playing the thug, Boyega had charisma even early on and it’s understandable why he has his own band of followers.  He gets in over his head dealing with a slightly older drug kingpin who “owns the block” and takes the kid under his wing for a drug sale.  His followers are a motley sort. Along with a pair of much younger kids that add some comic relief, and an additional wandering, stoned teenager, they must come together to fight the gang leader and worse—the onslaught of big hairy aliens.

The scarf of a future Doctor!  Jodie Whittaker in Attack the Block.

Six years later, Attack the Block easily holds its own.  For alien invasion film fans, it offers one of the best aliens of any 21st century production–big or low budget—giant dark, furry beasts built like hybrid gorilla/buffalos, with phosphorescent blue fangs, able to leap and spring and climb buildings.  We don’t ever see clear views of these creatures, and that mystery and an overall lack of gore throughout the movie helps form the mystique of these creatures–think the uncertainty of when the shark appears next in Jaws–and it makes them just plain scary as they chase their targets down hallways and up buildings.  They aren’t hive-minded aliens from Alien or conniving predators as in Predator, but they don’t need to be.

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The Comic-Con, cosplay, sci-fi, fantasy, film and television world–and we at borg.com–are mourning the loss today of Carrie Fisher, who passed away at age 60.  For a generation she portrayed the most important heroine we encountered in the Land of Make-Believe because of a phenomenon called Star Wars.

Fortunately for her fans, she was able to bring her Princess Leia, now a General, to a new generation with last year’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

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We’ll look forward to her once again portraying the strong-willed leader once more in Star Wars: Episode VIII, which she had completed filming, next December.

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Today we thank this fine actress for all the great hours we got to spend with her as the most iconic heroine in science fiction, for the individual influence she had on each of us, and for giving us a character that was a role model and force for positivism for so many.

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg.com

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What a year!  The world’s a changing place and no less so than with the welcome onslaught of new movies, television shows, books, comics, and everything else that entertained us in 2016.  All year long we tried to keep up with the best of what Hollywood had to offer and honed in on the genre content we thought was worth examining.  We went back and looked at it all and pulled together our picks for our annual Best of the Best list.  We watched all of nearly two dozen TV series, and enough of others to know we’d seen enough.  We watched dozens of new movies, reviewed more than three dozen books (and read even more), and kept up with dozens of comic book titles.  We witnessed the 75th anniversary of Wonder Woman, Green Arrow, Archie, and Captain America, the 50th anniversary of Star Trek and Charles Schulz’s Great Pumpkin, Rocky turned 40, and it was the 30th anniversary of Aliens and Labyrinth.  And the Cubs finally won the World Series.

Today we reveal the best genre content of 2016–with our top categories from movies and television Best Sci-Fi Fix, Best Fantasy Fix, Best Superhero Fix, Best Animated Fix, and Best Borg, followed by our Best in Movies picks.  The big winner was Rogue One, taking 13 spots, followed by Doctor Strange with three.  Come back later this week for our TV and print media picks, our special look at Kick-ass Heroines of 2016, followed by our annual borg.com Hall of Fame inductees.

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Best Sci-Fi Fix – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Lucasfilm).  Although the franchise is more space fantasy than science fiction, all the elements of the best sci-fi were crammed into Rogue One.  Epic space battles, aliens, and loads of sci-fi technology.  A compelling story.  We’re wagering this film will be a classic we go back to for years to come, upsetting Star Wars: The Force Awakens as the third best of the eight films in the series.  It’s everything a sci-fi fan could want.

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Best Fantasy FixThe Huntsman: Winter’s War (Universal Pictures).  Like Rogue One it was a prequel that was also a sequel.  Better than the original Snow White and the Huntsman, this early 2016 release provided a high-fantasy story rooted in the classic fairy tale, rewarding viewers midway with a surprise change-up.  Three tough female leads, four brave (and funny) dwarves, two epic quests, a fairy tale romance, and elaborate costumes and sets made for a perfect fantasy film.

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Best Superhero FixThe Magnificent Seven (MGM/Columbia Pictures).  When we first reviewed The Magnificent Seven we were surprised it had adapted the Yul Brynner version and Akira Kurosawa’s earlier Seven Samurai so well.  We were even more surprised at how well the cast, and cast of characters, worked together to create a true ensemble piece.  It rivaled every attempt by the studios to make a great superhero team-up, and, but for the Western garb and setting, it rates as the year’s best of the superhero genre.  Runner-up, a close contender for the win was the second appearance of Evan Peters as Quicksilver doing his speedster business slow-motion style again in X-Men: Apocalypse.

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Best Retro FixStranger Things (Netflix).  It’s a TV series that would have made a solid movie hit in 1982.  So many series appear unexpectedly these days with a full season ready to stream immediately.  Most demonstrate why they couldn’t cut it with the networks or a major cable channel.  Not so with some of Netflix’s series, especially the surprise hit Stranger Things.  With a nicely eerie soundtrack, title font, a Twin Peaks-meets Steven Spielberg coming of age film cul-de-sac for the setting, and  John Carpenter meets Stephen King vibe, it’s no wonder Stranger Things was the #1 talked about series this year.  Our favorite part, besides the young heroine of the show, was the attention to throwback clothes, toys, posters, and 1980s pop culture references.  It’s a series we’ll revisit in the future, and look forward to in its second season.

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Best Borg/Best Movie Villain – Darth Vader (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story).  Darth Vader returned in his best scene of the franchise outside of The Empire Strikes Back in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.  It wasn’t James Earl Jones’s return to voice one of the best villains in the history of cinema that grabbed us, but the full-on rampage Vader takes to pursue the stolen Rebel plans in the film’s finale.  Director (and lifelong Star Wars fan) Gareth Edwards gave fans exactly what they wanted, utilizing an impressive UK creature actor Spencer Wilding to do his bidding as the imposing Lord of the Sith.  We also got a peek at what little of the man remained years after his battle with Obi-Wan Kenobi.  We saw inside his cybernetic suit of armor via a scene featuring him floating in a bacta tank.  Darth Vader remains one of the greatest borgs of all time.

Want to know who we picked for best in effects, soundtrack, and best sci-fi, fantasy, comedy, and horror movies of the year?  Take a look after the cut…

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If you haven’t seen the Sideshow Collectibles line-up of premium 1:6 scale figures, then the below gallery is for you.  In the past twelve months Sideshow Collectibles and its Hot Toys brand has released some of the best sculpted figures we’ve ever seen for the Star Wars franchise, beginning with a superb line of Star Wars: The Force Awakens figures.  In the past month we’ve seen even more great figures previewed for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

These movie-accurate collectible figures are specially crafted for the new films, featuring new body designs and armor, highly polished helmets and accessories, sophisticated tailoring of costumes with detailed textures, premium accessories like utility belts with LED lights, lightsaber hilts, character-specific weaponry and poseable add-on hands, and themed figure stands.  And the human figures reflect the actors’ likenesses quite well.

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These previews are a great way to get a first look at the varieties of Stormtroopers coming soon in Rogue One.  Rogue One takes place just before the original Star Wars, so it’s interesting Disney/Lucasfilm included so many new Stormtrooper designs.  Does it add to the film (Star Wars has always been about new, out-of-this-world characters) or is it because fans are going to be wanting to collect them all?

It doesn’t matter because they turned out great.  We’ll see updated Stormtroopers and TIE Fighter Pilots, plus the new Shoretroopers and Death Troopers.  Check out all these figures from Rogue One and The Force Awakens:

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Unlike the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars, the canon series Star Wars Rebels takes place in the classic trilogy timeline, where we get to see our favorite characters, like Princess Leia, Darth Vader, Lando Calrissian, C-3PO, and Yoda, with the original actors voicing the characters (Leia excluded) in an era that is the most loved by the fan base.  It takes place five years before Star Wars: A New Hope, and it’s canon, which means all that happens there influences Star Wars Episode VIII and onward.

As one example, if you think Finn (the Stormtrooper who defects to the Resistance in Star Wars: A Force Awakens) is the first famous Star Wars character to defect from the Empire to fight for the good guys, think again.  Season Three has many reasons for Star Wars fans to keep watching.

The biggest news has been revealed in the DisneyXD previews:  Grand Admiral Thrawn becomes a part of Star Wars canon beginning tonight, voiced by Lars Mikkelsen.  Created by Timothy Zahn in the first expanded universe Star Wars trilogy novel, the excellent Heir to the Empire, Thrawn was the rare intelligent Imperial officer like Grand Moff Tarkin.  Dressed in the formal white uniform seen worn by a background actor in the original Star Wars, he is the blue-skinned humanoid who helped rebuild the Empire after the second Death Star was destroyed in Return of the Jedi.  We even see from the preview that his attending ysalimir are back.

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But that’s not all.  There are many other reasons to come back for more:

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Back in 1998, before the Star Wars prequels, PC users were given the first public look at the deleted scenes from Star Wars–the original, Episode IV, A New Hope, etc.  A two-CD-ROM set called Star Wars: Behind the Magic whetted the appetites of fans who were soon going to be able to see a new Star Wars movie for the first time in 16 years.  Deleted scenes?  Lucas shot scenes we hadn’t yet seen?   Finally those still images we only saw as kids in The Star Wars Storybook came to life, like this guy that looked like Clark Gable or Tom Selleck named Biggs Darklighter, with Luke Skywalker and a group of his young friends just hanging out on Tatooine.  Some of the deleted scenes never made it back into George Lucas’s re-worked final canon version of the trilogy.  But the data on those CD-ROMs was unprecedented, and better compiled and searchable than much information available even today on the Internet.

So we were excited to see Industrial Light and Magic release a new Behind the Magic entry this past week, even if only a few minutes long, this time for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  The reel, posted to YouTube by ILMVisualFX, is a bit of a rollercoaster ride through all the layers of CGI and blue screen work required to create so many locations, special effects, characters, and visual spectacles.  It’s wired up with crazy sound, too, and just might make you dizzy as you fall in and out of scene after scene.

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For fans of Star Wars waiting for the release of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story in December, and the release of the 3D edition of Star Wars: The Force Awakens in November discussed here previously at borg.com, and featuring even more behind the scenes features, this new reel just locks in our fanboy and fangirl need for that 3D edition.

Check out this behind the scenes look at last year’s–and this year’s–biggest film, in Behind the Magic: The Visual Effects of Star Wars: The Force Awakens:

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Certain to provide some last-minute marketing funds for its December release of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Disney/Lucasfilm is dipping once again into fans’ pockets in November as it finally releases the 3D Blu-ray 4-disc edition of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  For those fans who don’t have a 3D TV configuration, the set offers some new features that may prompt you to buy whether you plan to view the 3D cut or not.

So other than what promises to be an exceptional 3D version of the film on Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray, Digital HD, and DVD, why might fans go for the Star Wars: The Force Awakens 3D Collector’s Edition?

How about an audio commentary by J.J. Abrams?  The most sought after director of today will no doubt share insight into this incredible directing opportunity, why he made the story choices he did and a behind the scenes view of the cast.  Not enough for you?  Then how about some more deleted scenes–scenes that were rumored to exist but where held back from this April’s standard Blu-ray, DVD, and digital releases.

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A 3D version, an Abrams commentary and more deleted scenes cinches it for us.  But if you want any more how about five new behind the scenes features?  Check them out:

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